One of the most annoying/surprising/irritating things that you can experience online is when you search for a particular site, only to find that it is no longer there. Not only is it just not accessible, it looks to have disappeared completely. Generally, in this case, surprise can turn to disappointment, and you just move on, perhaps thinking that you’ll come back to it later. It’s a much different story however, when the site you are trying to access is your own.
Surprise turns to frustration and then quickly to annoyance because your paid web host has dropped the ball here. Of course, if you are relying on your website for money, then annoyance can turn to terror as the sums of lost income start building in your head.
This is a scenario turned reality for many site owners, yet so few are across how this happens and what it means for them. Here, we will address in layman’s terms the causes and effects of a server crash and what, if anything, you can do if it happens to you.
Your webhost server is the connection between your website being stored in cyberspace, and everyone being able to view it when someone searches for it online. So it makes sense then, that if something goes awry with your web host’s server that is housing your site, then something is going to go wrong with the accessibility of your site.
Most hosting companies guarantee a 99.9 per cent “up time” meaning that your website should be online “practically” all the time. So when your website is no longer visible, and everything is working as per normal on your home computer, it is likely that something has happened to the server hosting your site.
When servers have issues that impact your site, it is normally caused by a “crash” by the software that runs the server, in which case your website may be completely inaccessible or provide an error message in place of the regular content.
When your website cannot be accessed due to something happening with the server, this is known as website “downtime”. At times, downtime may be a planned scenario, but often there are more serious or sinister implications behind the event. Following is a list of recognized causes of server downtime;
- Planned – hosting companies need to upgrade software applications, operating systems, and hardware components.
- Components fail – software defects may develop, hardware components may become faulty, programming errors may occur, along with viruses and corruption of files.
- Operator error – unskilled operators may unintentionally delete files.
- Server overload – either from unexpected mass traffic surge or malicious intent.
- Malicious users – intentional file deletion and hacking to bring down the server.
- Natural disasters – such as storms, earthquakes, flooding.
We have already touched on the impact that server downtime can have on your website. The following is a more expansive list of what you can expect when this happens;
- Slow to load – generally happens during a period of “soft” downtime, meaning that your site will be visible online, however it will perform poorly.
- Not visible – your website will not load at all and will not be available to users. This is the typical scenario during periods of “hard” downtime.
- Malicious content – your webpages are hijacked and normal content is deleted or replaced.
- HTTP errors – “timed out” messages resulting from slow connectivity to your website.
It’s obviously important that any downtime be addressed without delay, especially if you rely on your website to provide any sort of income. Lengthy terms of absence online can cost you money, lose you customers, repel potential advertisers, and ultimately affect your ranking in the search engines.
To put the true cost of website downtime into a bit of perspective. Last month both Google and Amazon suffered outages. Amazon.com went down for 40 minutes and it was reported that it cost Amazon $5 million dollars in lost sales. That is an astounding $120,000 per minute.
When your website is unduly affected by downtime, there are a few things that you can do in the short term;
- Check that the site really is down – test your site from another source and have it confirmed by another party. There are loads of sites like www.downforeveryoneorjustme.com that you can use the check if the site is really down.
- Determine the cause – investigate possible immediate causes such as an expired domain or programming error. This will save you grief if you find that the problem is not with the server itself.
- Contact the hosting company – most providers have 24/7/365 open support and they can advise of any known issues and length of delays.
- Notify users or customers – if you have social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook, place a status update on them about the current problem.
In the greater scheme of things, server crashes that cause website downtime are the exception to the rule. The fact that we have raised the matter, however, does expose that what is put up in cyberspace, can just as easily fall back down. With this in mind, there are several things that you can do to help prevent disaster if this happens to you.
Make sure that you are using a reliable webhost with a proven track record of solid uptime (here is a comparison of two of the best hosts). If you have more than one website, host it with a different company so that you can communicate from it if one site goes down. Ensure that you have backups of important emails and messages.
Avoid automatically enlisting in the cheapest hosting plans, and be sure to discuss your hosting requirements with potential providers, including their support levels, so that you are as comfortable as you can be that your online presence remains safely served.